Captain Bruce Bairnsfather


Captain Bruce Bairnsfather became world-famous during the First World War as creator of Old Bill, the walrus moustached old soldier who appeared in many of his “ Fragments from France” cartoons depicting life at the Front. Published weekly in “The Bystander” magazine from 1915 they caught the imagination of both the men on the front line, and their families back home. Bairnsfather became a household name and published volumes of his cartoons sold over a million copies. In 1916 he was transferred to the Intelligence Department of the War Office, and officially appointed “Officer Cartoonist,” touring the French, Italian and American armies in this capacity.

But Bairnsfather was much more than a cartoonist, and in a career lasting over forty years was involved in a great many fields of entertainment. He was an accomplished author, playwright and lecturer, and in 1927 spent a year in Canada, directing a major motion picture, for which he had also written the screenplay. He appeared on the vaudeville stage in America, and in variety in England. In the 1920’s he was one of the first celebrities to be recorded talking on film in America, and a decade later took part in the early television broadcasts from Alexandra Palace.

Between 1920 and 1950 Bairnsfather undertook eleven lecture tours of America and Canada. He lived almost permanently in New York from 1926 to 1932 and worked for many well known American publications such as “ Life”, “ The New Yorker”, and “ Judge”.

In the 1930’s he contributed to popular English magazines such as “ The Passing Show”, “ Illustrated”, “ John Bull” and the “ British Legion Journal”. With the outbreak of the Second World War he introduced Old Bill’s son, Young Bill, and a film was made about the pair—”Old Bill & Son.”

From 1942 to 1944 he was officially attached to the American Forces in Europe, firstly with the American Army in Northern Ireland, and then the USAF at Chelveston in the UK, where he was based from 1943 to 1944.

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, once described as “The Man who Won the War” and “the world’s greatest cartoonist” died on 29th September 1959 at the age of 72. In a career lasting forty five years he had done an enormous amount of different things, almost always accompanied by Old Bill, and almost sixty years after his death still has a large following among enthusiasts and collectors worldwide.


Mark Warby

To find out more about how Bruce Bairnsfather came to create Fragments from France click here